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Utah Valley has more than you know.

Utah Valley Has More Than You Know

Diversity may not be the first word that comes to mind when describing Utah County, with a population 95 percent white and nearly that percentage Mormon. But diversity is just what is attracting businesses to Utah County, together with a laid-back atmosphere, auspicious business opportunities, and an ample choice of life styles. The business atmosphere is "the |most valuable player' in the county," Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert said. The infrastructure, work force, cost of doing business, and quality of life all combine to make a very attractive package for businesses looking for a home.

"Tell me where you can have a better place to live and have a business than in Utah County," Herbert said. "Yesteryear we were seen as a backwoodsy place, but we're becoming much more sophisticated. People out of state are just now discovering we are a diamond in the rough."

Located in the heart of the Intermountain West, Utah County is only a night delivery away from the Los Angeles market by truck or rail. The Salt Lake International Airport is less than an hour from many of the county's communities. Utility systems have been built with growth in mind. Even water, a rare commodity in the arid west, is adequate for projected growth rates. The Utah Valley Economic Development Association touts Utah Valley's utility rates as lower than many U.S. cities.

The Smallest and the Richest

Utah County has 21 incorporated towns and cities, most an easy commute to Interstate 15. The most recent town to incorporate is also the smallest. Vineyard, with 151 people, is dwarfed by its industrial tax base - Geneva Steel, the only U.S. integrated steel mill west of the Mississippi River. Vineyard is likely among the richest little towns in the state. Provo, settled by Mormon pioneers, is the largest city in the county, with 87,000 people and home to Brigham Young University. Orem is next door, with 68,000 people and Utah Valley Community College.

Most of the cities and towns were settled by Mormon pioneers. Names like American Fork, Spanish Fork, and Springville demonstrate the pioneers' choice to settle by water. Goshen's namesake is under historical debate, some saying it is Biblical and others attributing the name to the Goshute Indians who lived in the area.

One exception is Cedar Fort, which had its heyday in the 19th century when federal troops were sent to Utah to put down a non-existent Mormon rebellion. The 1990 census counted 284 people living there. Other communities - Highland, Cedar Hills, Elk Ridge, and Woodland Hills - were established as bedroom communities during the 1970s. The Wasatch Mountains form the eastern border of Utah Valley. Mount Timpanogos, at about 12,000 feet, is the highest, towering above the valley floor, which averages 4,500 feet above sea level.

Culture and Heritage

The beauty of the natural setting and the recreational opportunities provided by the mountains, lakes, and rivers are rare so close to a metropolitan area. Outdoor recreation opportunities are hard to beat, with winter or summer sports only minutes away.

The county is also rich in cultural events. Besides the diverse, if not international, cultural environment provided by Brigham Young University, Utah County has it all from rodeos to world folk-fest events, from blue-grass music to classical. The valley is home to several community theaters, as well as a summer theater season at the Sundance resort. Sundance, a ski resort owned by actor Robert Redford, is located a scenic 20-minute drive up Provo Canyon from Utah Valley.

Many Utah County municipalities have yearly festivals celebrating their individual heritages. Springville has Art City Days, in honor of its designation as the Art City of Utah. It boasts the largest and oldest art museum in Utah. Payson celebrates a Scottish Festival with a bagpipe band.

Spanish Fork is home to the Utah County Fair, rodeo grounds, and a yearly Fiesta Days carnival. The largest celebration is Provo's annual Freedom Festival, with activities for weeks culminating with a bang on Independence Day with spectacular fireworks, celebrities, and entertainers. The festival is one of the largest Fourth of July events in the nation.

Quality of Life

The cost of living is another attraction. Utah Valley Economic Development Association says the cost of living is at least 10 percent lower than the national average. Housing prices are very affordable, with about 90 percent of the homes in the $60,000 to $100,000 range.

"We're finding more and more that a lot of businesses are looking for quality of life," said Steven Densley, president of the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce. "We used to think tax structure and infrastructure were more important."

Densley and others are quick to point out that Utah County, while offering quality of life amenities, also has the right kind of infrastructure and business incentives to accommodate most industries.

Economic Development Programs

Redevelopment districts have been created in several parts of the county, giving communities economic development tools such as tax breaks and special zoning to turn blighted areas into economic success stories. Several communities have revolving loan funds to provide capital for businesses at favorable interest rates. Provo and Orem were the Utah cities selected to put a one-million-dollar-plus state revolving loan fund into operation.

"Orem was the first city in the state to have a revolving loan fund," said Karen Stewart, marketing director for the Commission of Economic Development in Orem. Besides the loan fund, which has been operating for six years, Orem is launching an "incubation" program for new businesses. Office space and support will be offered to companies just trying to get their feet off the ground. Orem is also spearheading an investors' and innovators' group as a way to help spawn new businesses.

Provo's economic development office has been instrumental in getting Provo recognized nationally for innovative practices to help the economic base. Provo was awarded the 1990 City Livability Award for cities under 100,000 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"One of the things economic development does is allow resources to better provide services and amenities," Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins said. The city's successful development of the East Bay Business Park and East Bay, Golf Course has played a part in Provo's national recognition. "We took a risk and became our own developer." With East Bay, the risk paid off in a big way. It is home to Novell and several other commercial ventures, broadening the city's tax base.

Provo's Economic Development Director Gary Golightly described Provo's economic base in one word: "diversified." Provo has a high-tech base, an education foundation, a manufacturing infrastructure, and a large service sector. "We've grown commercially. Provo has almost doubled its retail tax base in the last five years. I think the type of industries we want to attract are the ones that our work force attracts. Our work force is smart and young. Companies like NuSkin (a direct marketing cosmetic company that has recently expanded into international markets) need an energetic, aggressive work force."

With the highest birthrate in the nation, the county's population of 265,000 is providing a steady supply of new workers. The median age is 23, and almost the whole work force has at least a high school education.

Golightly said Provo has the natural resources to grow. "We're not going to grow in big numbers because we're bounded by the mountains and the lake. Now we want quality growth. We're developing a storm-drain system and new water and energy resources. The infrastructure is sufficient to grow at the rate we anticipate. We're ahead of the game.

"A lot of our growth hasn't been from out of state but from spin-offs of local companies or BYU. We're growing a lot of companies internally, rather than externally."

To help businesses along, Golightly said Prove uses every economic development tool. Provo has a redevelopment office and three redevelopment districts. The revolving loan fund has 11 loans out to small companies and is preparing to utilize funds from a state-administered revolving loan fund created to help technology-based businesses.

Provo has several hotel and motel facilities to serve business travelers and tourists. The Excelsior Hotel is part of Seven Peaks Resort, which has one of the state's finest water parks and, in 1992, will open a spectacular 18-hole golf course along the mountain on the east end of Provo. The Excelsior can now facilitate conferences of about 1,000 people, but it is looking at expanding its facilities to accommodate larger groups.

High Marks in Education

Brigham Young University has a 65,000-seat football stadium, which it fills year after year with fans of the BYU Cougars and its long line of outstanding quarterbacks, including Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. the Marriott Center seats 23,000 for basketball games and special events.

BYU's enrollment of 27,000 students makes it the country's largest private university. With 6,000 of those students graduating each year, Utah County is in an excellent position to attract educated employees.

The foreign language program at BYU is one of the best. Densley said the number of people in the work force in Utah County who are fluent in second languages has been described as one of the area's greatest untapped resources.

Utah Valley Community College (UVCC), in Orem, is of direct benefit to businesses as an employee training ground. Karen Stewart said UVCC has a "custom fit program" for training employees. "If you have a company and you need X number of people to have particular training, then UVCC can help."

Stewart said BYU and UVCC, which will soon have a special-events center that can host community events and trade shows, are both good for businesses in the area. "You need both a university and a college which provides technical support training."

Key Industries

Business parks are developed, or are being developed, in Spanish Fork, Payson, Lehi, Lindon, Pleasant Grove Springville, and American Fork. Provo and Orem have several business parks. Santaquin has firm plans to build a sewer system that will help develop land set aside for a business park.

While agriculture still plays a part in the economy of Utah County, the area is also home to several other industries. The proliferation of high-tech companies in the valley continues. Highly successful firms like WordPerfect and Novell anchor an estimated 140 high-tech firms.

Education is the county's largest employer. Brigham Young University has almost 8,000 employees. Utah Valley Community College and the Alpine, Provo, and Nebo school districts combine to exceed BYU's employment.

The manufacturing sector has both heavy industry, such as Geneva Steel, and light industry, including high-tech companies. Medical facilities are important to the economy and the well-being of the valley's residents. Utah Valley Regional Medical Center is one of the county's top employers. Service industries, such as Sears Telecatalog, are also attracted to Utah County's friendly and productive work force.

What Attracts Business

California-based Longview Fibre recently opened a plant in Spanish Fork. Roy Slotten, vice president of manufacturing, said that "We chose to locate our manufacturing facility in Spanish Fork because of its fine location in the mountain west. The transportation system is ideal because of its location adjacent to the interstate freeway and the Union Pacific Railroad."

Dave Oyler, Spanish Fork city manager, estimated that the city's economic base is about fifty/fifty agriculture and manufacturing. Spanish Fork has created a redevelopment agency and is preparing to form its first redevelopment district.

But Oyler sees lifestyle as the biggest draw for companies to the area. "We have a rural atmosphere with close proximity to urban amenities. There is no traffic congestion, and it's easy living."

Lehi's Mayor Guy Cash sees location as the town's best bet for attracting industry. "Our central location between Salt Lake and the rest of Utah Valley is our greatest asset. Lehi is an explosion waiting to happen."

Mayor Cash is optimistic about the development of two new business parks with infrastructures in place. A new freeway interchange is expected to open up the area for economic development. The rural community's economic base is mostly industry and agriculture.

Location is also Lindon's most important calling card. Ray Brown, recorder/administrator, said Lindon has a large industrial said Lindon has a large industrial base, three business parks, and a redevelopment agency. Its location on I-15 and the railroad, in close proximity to Geneva Steel, is seen as a big plus for firms looking for a location.

A business park developed at the American Fork I-15 interchange is expected to boost commercial activity in that city. Director of finance Carl Wanlass said the big boom in American Fork the last few years has come in residential building. One developer built and sold 205 houses in a six-month period. The suburban atmosphere and affordable housing draws people who work in Salt Lake County as well as other parts of Utah County.

Pleasant Grove could welcome more businesses. "At the present time, we're really trying to position ourselves to be more attractive to businesses coming in or expanding in the valley," said Jim Ferguson, economic development director. "In the long term, we are looking at developing a quality industrial park. Pleasant Grove has been a bedroom community for some time, with high-quality neighborhoods. We don't want to detract from that at all, but we would like a better tax base."

Several Utah County communities have started out as residential areas and plan to stay that way. Alpine and Highland, on the north end of Utah Valley, are largely residential. In the south, Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills boast the cleanest air in the valley. Winds out of Spanish Fork Canyon tend to keep northern Utah County's more polluted air away from the county's southern end.

Elk Ridge Mayor James Beam said "We are strictly a bedroom community. The only non-residential buildings in town are the city building and a church." Adjacent to Payson's new 18-hole gold course. Elk Ridge also has "an absolutely beautiful view of Utah Valley."

Payson's pastoral setting attracts residents who work in other areas, but the city is also prepared to entice businesses to locate there. "We have a favorable tax climate, and the cost of establishing business here is low," said Glen Vernon, city administrator. "Utility rates are competitive, and we have redevelopment incentives: tax breaks, rebates on charges," and other incentives.

Keeping Growth Focused

When Gary Herbert ran for county commissioner in the last election, he told people "The No. 1 problem facing Utah County is growth." He explained that it wasn't that he didn't want growth, but that growth had to be planned to keep Utah County the "liveable" place it is now, while still providing economic opportunities for the expanding population.

"Officials have been looking down the road," Herbert said. "We've been planning for growth, and I think we have to have the long-range vision to see that growth, so that it can be orderly. In the main, we're pretty far-reaching in our preparation." The message for businesses from city and county officials seems to be "Let them come!"

Pat Birkedahl is a free-lance writer who lives in Provo.
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Title Annotation:what attracts businesses to Utah County, Utah
Author:Birkedahl, Pat
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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